Foreign Policy Blogs

Woman versus Taliban

Afghan taliban

Afghan Taliban Fighters, photo courtesy isafmedia/flickr

This past fortnight seems to have been full of surprises – Australia, for example, introduced a third gender category for passports, beyond the tradition male/female dichotomy. And fittingly, there have also been two stories in the media that demonstrate that subversion of this “either/or” set-up isn’t limited to the West: women in Afghanistan and Libya are also pushing against the boundaries created to constrain them.

Former mujahedin Abedo is the 70-year-old leader of a militia in Helmand, Afghanistan. She has nine children and protects her district again the Taliban. Held in high esteem due to her experience and skill, she presents a stark contrast to the typical image of an Afghan woman, shrouded head-to-foot in a burqa. Speaking like a veteran, Abedo notes that, “Modern-day youngsters in the police and army don’t have experience, and it’s easy for them to get killed in combat because they don’t know how to fight.”

In Libya, it is these boundaries and set expectations that enabled a woman – codenamed ‘Nomidia’ – to play a key role in helping NATO support the Libyan rebel forces in their fight against the Qaddafi regime. She passed on vital information on weapons depots and bases in Tripoli even though this meant the regime would hunt her and her family down. She understandably still does not want to reveal her identity. As Nomidia tole Reuters, she felt less conspicuous “…it was almost impossible [for Qaddafi loyalists] to think that a girl was doing all of this.”



Cate Mackenzie
Cate Mackenzie

Cate works as an editor in Zürich, Switzerland. She holds an MA in Comparative and International Studies from ETH Zurich, and a BA (Hons) in International Studies with Political Science from the University of Birmingham (UK).

She has previously lived and worked in Fiji and the US.

Great Decisions Discussion group